Dreams Cut Short for 2 Chinese Teenagers ; Students Killed in Crash Had Hoped for Summer of American Experiences

By Yee, Vivian | International Herald Tribune, July 9, 2013 | Go to article overview

Dreams Cut Short for 2 Chinese Teenagers ; Students Killed in Crash Had Hoped for Summer of American Experiences


Yee, Vivian, International Herald Tribune


The two 16-year-old victims of Asiana Flight 214 were among 34 10th-grade Chinese students and chaperones who were bound for a summer camp outside Los Angeles.

For three weeks, they would have seen the United States through the sunny lens of a California summer camp: learning about American customs and English idioms in the mornings, visiting local theme parks in the afternoons and touring Stanford University and the Google campus on the weekends.

To see it all, the Chinese teenagers from the eastern province of Zhejiang had to fly through Seoul and into San Francisco International Airport, where their plane clipped the edge of the runway, skidded and burst into flames on Saturday. Two of the students were left dead on the tarmac -- the only fatalities -- as their classmates fled the burning aircraft.

The two 16-year-old victims were identified on Sunday as Ye Mengyuan and Wang Linjia, both girls from the town of Jiangshan, who were among 34 10th-grade students and chaperons bound for the camp at West Valley Christian School outside Los Angeles.

Online, Wang Linjia had posted that she hoped time could dilute "the thick coffee in her cup," perhaps easing some sadness about separating from her classmates for the coming school term back home. Ye Mengyuan had written just days ago that she was "gloomy," but other posts hinted at a brighter side: a love of dogs, of animation and of Japanese, Korean and American television.

The girls and their classmates were part of a wave of thousands of affluent Chinese children who come to the United States each summer for language study and cultural immersion, many passing through California on their way to tour Ivy League campuses, go swimming, eat chili dogs and practice their English.

"Those two could've easily been girls coming to my camp," said Steve Haines, who runs Horizons USA, an immersion camp for international students near Philadelphia. "I have plenty of girls just like them."

He said he had already fielded several calls from worried parents in China, where about three-quarters of his international campers come from, some as young as 8.

Chinese students have been enrolling in universities and private high schools in the United States for years, with almost 200,000 coming into the country on student visas in the 2011-12 academic year. But it has become more and more common for well-off families in China to send children to summer camps throughout the United States, which many Chinese parents see as preparation for studying at U.S. schools.

Directors of the summer programs say it has become a competitive industry, buoyed by China's economic ascent, a favorable exchange rate and parents willing to pay to give their children an edge in admission at U.S. high schools and colleges.

The programs can cost as much as $12,000 for a few weeks at a prestigious campus, though prices in the range of $2,000 to $7,000 are more common. Many parents also pay extra fees to agencies that place their children with the programs.

"Many of them are thinking about university," said David Lin, the director of the Chinese Culture Association, whose camp is in San Bernardino, California. …

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